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2012 Chevrolet Volt

The state of California passed a potentially historic mandate for increasing the required number of plug-in and zero emissions vehicles (ZEVs) sold in the state to 15.4 per cent of all new vehicles by 2025.

The state predicts that by that time, 1.4 million vehicles on Californian roads will be zero or what it calls "transitional zero emissions vehicles" that run mostly on electricity, like the Chevrolet Volt.

Vehicles with a large battery pack but a gasoline back-up power source will make up the majority of sales of the newly mandated ZEVs, predicts the California Air Resources Board, with pure battery electric vehicles and fuel cells expected to make up 500,000 of those 1.4 million vehicles.

The standards kick in with a 34 per cent reduction in 2016 greenhouse gas emissions for all vehicles starting with the 2017 model year, standards reached in consultation with the U.S. federal government, CARB said. The U.S. government adopted California's most recent greenhouse gas emissions standards in 2010, after 10 other states adopted the same tougher emissions rules, following a protracted legal battle with auto makers. CARB also expects the U.S. government to adopt similar rules that will parallel these, making for new cleaner, tougher de facto national emissions standards.

And what California and especially the U.S. does nationally is key for Canadians, because our countries' aligned emissions and safety rules means that how these new rules shape American vehicles will also largely shape what's on Canadian roads in the next 15 years as well.

The new rules also call for a reduction in pollution by 75 per cent from 2014 levels, as well as increased support for the commercialization of hydrogen fuelling stations for fuel cell vehicles. These FCV pumps are sparse in California now, and virtually non-existent in Canada.

CARB says these changes will add an average of $1,900 (U.S.) to the cost of a vehicle, but says that consumers will save an average of $4,000 over the life of the vehicle.

One new clause that environmental groups are decrying is the ability of auto makers to use the reduction of fuel consumption of their gas-only vehicles to delay the implementation of zero emissions vehicles, if a manufacturer's fuel consumption savings exceed the mandated amounts. Some auto makers reportedly pushed for this loophole, to provide them some flexibility on where to invest limited R&D dollars: on mass-market fuel-savings technology, or relatively limited ZEVs.

The new rules provide credits to auto makers for exceeding GHG emissions that can be applied to meeting their needed ZEV sales, but only through 2018 to 2021 model years.

The big question now is whether other states and then the U.S. government will adopt such rules basically as is, as happened in 2010, or whether CARB will back away from its stringent ZEV rules, as it did soon after its strict 1990 ZEV mandate, under pressure from auto makers and oil producers.

Insurer releases 2012 future classics list

Three Ontario-built cars are among the best bets to achieve collectible status in the future, collector car specialist Hagerty Insurance says.

The Dodge Charger SRT8 made the list over its 300C stablemate that's also produced in Chrysler's Brampton plant, while the Oshawa-built Buick Regal GS and 580-hp Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 also made the list.

Other vehicles on the list include the Ford Mustang Boss 302 Laguna Seca Edition, the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8, the Fiat 500 Abarth (with by far the lowest oomph in the group at 160 hp), the Volkswagen Golf R, the Porsche 911, the Audi TT RS and the Nissan GT-R Black Edition.

Hagerty's annual "Hot List Under (U.S.) $100,000" picks non-exotic vehicles that could potentially rise in value on the collector car market. Typically, these are high-performance, low-volume two-doors that tug at enthusiast heartstrings. Still, the Charger and Grand Cherokee SRT8s suggests that the appeal of major muscle under the hood can also extend to more practical family vehicles.

Though the Buick Regal GS is no slouch in this department with its 270-hp turbocharged four, it was lauded more for offering a manual six-speed transmission.

"Surprisingly, at a time when allegedly more sporting makes don't offer real three-pedal manual transmissions, Buick is doing it with the Regal GS," Hagerty says.

Consumer Reports rates BMW X3 tops

Consumer Reports magazine has rated the BMW X3 well above the Range Rover Evoque, which just recently won the highly publicized 2012 North American Truck of the Year award, in its March edition.

The X3 was a finalist in the NATOTY awards, but the hot-looking Evoque was announced the winner at the Detroit auto show a few weeks ago. But in CR's comparison test between the two, the BMW significantly outpoints it, with the magazine's editors ranking the Evoque near the bottom of the compact luxury SUV class after taking issue with the Evoque's rear visibility, ride comfort, roominess and "troubling emergency handling."

David Champion, senior director of Consumer Reports' auto testing, sent a pointed barb at the credibility of the various press awards the Evoque has won. "Although the stylish Evoque has won lots of accolades in the press, including North American Truck of The Year, our more thorough testing reveals quite a few flaws."

Fiat 500 five-door coming

A larger five-door version of the Fiat 500 will debut at the Geneva auto show, with a North American version reportedly set to go on sale in early 2013.

The 500L to be revealed in March will be a taller and slightly longer version of the Cinquecento, which revived the Italian brand in North America last year. Fiat plans to offer both five- and seven-passenger versions in Europe, trade journal Automotive News reports, though only the five-seater is to make it to North America.

The 500L goes on sale in Europe in July, and will be built in Kragujevac, Serbia, at a former Yugo car plant.